Not exactly Godot
Searching for parents is a frustrating business, whether they have been
truly lost or figuratively so. In the past few years Big Fish and
Barbarian Invasions, to name two of many, depicted the painful longing
of sons to understand, in a sense to find, their brilliant, eccentric,
and rambling dads. Writer Sam Shepard is no stranger to familial
disaffection and discovery, as his play Buried Child and film Paris,
Texas can attest. His newest screenplay, Don't Come Knocking, comes as
close to Paris, Texas, as possible without plagiarizing itself.
At the heart of Knocking is a lonely, aging cowboy movie star, Howard
Spence (Shepard), who leaves the set of his $30 million movie in Moab,
Utah, on horseback to seek out the family he left behind decades ago.
As he shucks his movie costume for more authentic cowboy duds, he
descends into a maelstrom of recrimination and wonder, from a family,
including his ex-girlfriend Doreen (Shepard's real-life love, Jessica
Lange) and a son and daughter he never knew or knew about would be more
accurate. Howard has been a coward about his responsibilities,
emphasized by his leaving the set and before that his pregnant lovers.
And it appears he now wants to face those demons.
Shepard's dialog is spare enough to make Harold Pinter's seem
overwrought, and it is colloquial and laconic enough to make you wonder
if you yourself couldn't have written it. Don't be fooled; Shepard's
dialog draws us into the real world of simple people like ourselves,
who speak simply, but whose subtexts are filled with the agony of
living everyday with departed dads and half-demented kids.
Shepard's terse language is aided by the sensibility of director Wim
Wenders, who directed Paris, Texas with the same laconic absurdity
Shepard infuses his texts and performances with. This film is not
exactly Godot, but it is close, messes of a situation made messier by
the lack of communication we all bring to the big issues. But then,
that's the stuff of great theater and film, messes a playwright cleans
up with screenplay that washes over the human stain leaving barely a
trace. As Howard's mother (Eva Marie Saint) asks him, "How did you get
to be such a mess, Howard?" Ain't it the truth for all of us?.
American Dream queried - rightly so!
"Just fear" admits Howard Spence (Sam Sheppard) to the mother (Jessica
Lange) of his child. A child he knew nothing about until his mother
(Eva Marie Sainte) tells him when she meets him again some thirty years
later. Fear, disgust and disappointment with his life strikes suddenly
Howard Spence after many years in the forefront as a top actor in
westerns. His quest is to find his child. Sexually attractive he
suffers now from succumbing willingly to women's erotic enticements
(widespread among successful politicians and businessmen during the
centuries). Suddenly one summer day on the film set he realizes that he
has messed up his life. He has to escape from his world of romantic
western film. He is deeply disturbed. His fear is not just his but that
of a great many people in the world, no more so than Americans with
their "American Dream". Even those who returned from WW2, Korea,
Vietnam, Iraq who became disillusioned and disappointed. The beautiful
filming, poetic dialog, the lovely country and western music and
brilliant acting by all in this penetrating vision that demands from
Americans and Europeans understanding of and empathy for the worrying
reverse side of the American Dream - all these make this film a